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Kidney infections vs UTIs: the link and the differences

3 min read

Kidney infection v UTI

Kidney infections (pyelonephritis) vs UTIs

Unfortunately, UTIs can get out of hand. Your urinary tract is likened to the exhaust system of a car because it should only move one way: OUT. But what happens when harmful bacteria get IN?

First, where is your kidney?

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs (so, you know, like kidney beans) that are located against the back muscles in the upper abdominal area. Your kidneys clean waste from your blood and create urine. This urine travels through tubes (ureters) and is stored in your bladder, until it travels through the urethra, outside of your body. UTIs occur when bacteria travel up the urinary tract (i.e. bacteria gets inwhen it should be flushed out).

Kidney infection causes: How does this happen in the first place? 

However, if a UTI goes untreated, that bacteria can travel up the ureters to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection (also called pyelonephritis). What causes a kidney infection is ultimately linked to what causes a UTI. Other factors include:

  • Kidney stones, an enlarged prostate, spinal cord injuries, or other conditions that prevent urine from leaving the body.
  • Menopause or medications that alter hormones, which ultimately changes the bacterial environment in your urinary tract system.
  • Conditions that suppress the immune system (HIV/AIDS, diabetes, chemotherapy).
  • Sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, gonorrhea, mycoplasma, and chlamydia. 

Kidney infection symptoms in women: How do I know if it’s a kidney infection and not a UTI?

UTIs and kidney infections have similar symptoms. However, once the infection has spread to your kidneys, the symptoms listed below may become more severe:

  • Pain in your back, abdominal, or side (flanks)
  • A fever that exceeds 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Bloody urine
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills and shaking
  • Diarrhea
  • You are currently being treated for a UTI and your symptoms are not improving
  • Confusion, particularly in more elderly patients
  • Intense feelings of general illness.           

A kidney infection can develop quickly and cause serious damage. Seek medical attention if you are experiencing these symptoms combined with bloody urine and nausea or vomiting.

Kidney infection treatment: How do you treat a kidney infection?

Kidney infections always require antibiotics. The treatment normally lasts 7-14 days. While you may use home remedies to supplement these antibiotics, do not rely on them solely to treat kidney infections. Normally, you don’t need to be hospitalized to treat a kidney infection. Hospitalization may be required if you are:

  • Severely dehydrated
  • Constantly vomiting, unable to keep down oral antibiotics
  • Pregnant with a high fever
  • Diabetic
  • Over the age of 65

Wait, what is pyelonephritis though? 

You might hear kidney infection and pyelonephritis used interchangably. They're the same thing.

How to prevent kidney infections:

You can reduce the risk of kidney infection by being proactive about your urinary health.

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Wipe from front to back
  • Urinate after sex
  • Avoid using douches, spermicidal lube or deodorant sprays on your genital area
  • Avoid holding your pee for a prolonged amount of time
  • Don’t hang out in damp, sweaty clothes after physical activity

For some people, stellar behavior and daily habits are not enough to improve urinary health. This may come down to pregnancy, hormones, age, genetics, or conditions such as diabetes. While it’s important to follow the tips outlined above, sometimes you need a boost — like Uqora.  


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